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Sonoma County says money spent on lobbying is a good investment

Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.

Talk about getting a bang for the buck.

The Sonoma County Water Agency spent $355,000 on lobbying in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., in 2012 and got a payback of more $9 million in water project funding -- and the potential for even more from a salmon habitat restoration program.

"Pretty good return on investment," said Brad Sherwood, Water Agency spokesman.

The agency learned Thursday that its lobbying helped secure $65 million for the federal Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, which covers six western states.

"It's on the president's desk," Sherwood said.

The Water Agency, which must compete for grants from the new funding, has received more than $2 million from the salmon recovery program in the past.

The past year's lobbying netted $9 million in federal and state grants for water supply, flood protection and sanitation projects.

Local government agencies are major players in the high-stakes business of influencing state government, largely through a cadre of paid lobbyists who mingle in Capitol hallways with advocates for private enterprise.

Local agencies across California spent nearly $95 million on lobbying activities during the 2011-12 legislative session, according to reports filed with the California Secretary of State's Office.

That spending -- the largest by any sector -- surpassed the amount spent collectively on lobbying by oil and gas companies, labor unions and utilities ($82.4 million). In all, the public and private entities spent more than $563 million on lobbying Sacramento.

It's all about money, said Jim Leddy, the county's governmental affairs manager who oversees lobbying activities.

Cities, counties and local agencies depend on state and federal funds for a host of services, including road maintenance, public safety, health care, human services and affordable housing.

The county's $1.3 billion budget includes about $480 million in intergovernment revenues, an income stream that must be guarded, Leddy said.

"We are pressing every advantage we can to protect those revenues," he said.

When it comes to the state and federal budget process, "we have to play a defensive game," he said, competing against myriad interests for funding.

For example, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wanted to slice the entire $65 million salmon recovery program from the budget deal approved by Congress on Thursday.

But lobbyists for Sonoma County and other recipients helped save the funding, Leddy and Sherwood said.

Since 2000, the salmon restoration program has channeled nearly $1 billion into California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska, Sherwood said.

The Water Agency, which provides Russian River water to more than 600,000 North Bay customers, spent $216,613 on lobbying in Sacramento in 2011-12, according to public records.

Sonoma County spent $533,527 in the same period, but Leddy said that includes direct lobbying expenses and dues paid to numerous state and federal associations.

County payments to its Sacramento lobbying firm -- Shaw, Yoder, Antwih Inc. -- totalled $118,800. Shaw ranked 12th on the list of lobbying firm revenues with $5.2 million.

The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District reported $65,000 in lobbying expenses in 2011-12, bringing the three county agencies' total lobbying expense to $815,140.

Santa Rosa reported payments of $33,250 to its Sacramento lobbyist, Emanuels Jones & Associates.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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